March 14, 2020 at 9:27 pm EDT | by John Paul King
Dating apps urge users to take precautions against coronavirus

With concerns over COVID-19 leading LGBTQ+ groups to cancel or postpone events, in some cases even months in advance (such as LA Pride), and bars in community hubs like San Francisco’s Castro District shuttering for the duration, hookup apps are expecting a surge in traffic – but they’re urging users to be cautious.

With app operators reporting an increase in the number of people moving online, according to Reuters, several leading LGBTQ+ dating websites are taking steps to make sure their users are taking precautions, in an effort to both protect them against the virus and to help arrest its exponential spread. In addition, they are encouraging the use of their apps to maintain community and social interaction online rather than meeting up face-to-face.

Grindr, the world’s best-known gay dating app, sent out a notice to its users on Thursday, according to a spokesman, saying, “We… have published (World Health Organization) guidelines in the Grindr app to help users make the best-informed decisions when interacting with others.” A message currently greeting users on the site provides a link to the latest updates from the CDC.

Tinder, which serves a mixed straight and LGBTQ+ community of nearly 6 million subscribers, also issued an advisory note, saying “Tinder is a great place to meet new people… While we want you to continue to have fun, protecting yourself from the coronavirus is more important.”

The 30-million-user app Hornet also recently issued messages with advisory notes on how to avoid contracting the virus, and Scruff, which has over 15 million users, has sent out coronavirus tips from WHO “in chunks of 100,000 until all users are alerted,” according to a statement.

Hornet co-founder Sean Howell said, “We’ve shared a variety of news articles over the past few days inside the app in addition to sending messaging.”

Howell also added that Hornet was advising its users to maintain a social network, “but remotely.”

The need for a safe community lifeline may be much-needed in the weeks to come. LGBTQ+ groups warn that gay and trans people are vulnerable to the virus, due to frequently weakened immune systems resulting from HIV and cancer, and with the number of cases of coronavirus at over 156,000 and rising (at the time of this writing), it seems likely that an extended period of  “social distancing” may necessitate turning to the apps for something other than hook-up.

“I suspect we will see increases in traffic just like we do in the winter months,” said Howell.

“Social and dating apps are often about meeting people, (but) they’re also about having community and maintaining it online when we can’t do it in person.”

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